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Watford 0 Yeovil Town 3 (30/11/2013) 01/12/2013

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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1. As you do, I spend Friday night in Bexhill – whose sleepiness is measured by the fact that Hastings residents can be witheringly sarcastic about it without fear of contradiction – watching Napalm Death attempting to destroy a sound system made from ceramic tiles.

There’s something pleasingly symmetrical about this, a last adolescent hurrah in the face of responsible adulthood. No other band could be so appropriate for this moment: Napalm Death were a formative influence on my adolescence, a rebellious left-turn in mine and many others’ lives. Forced upon us by John Peel, they and their ilk – but they more than anyone – were met with initial incredulity and mirth, before the inherent logic of what they were doing and how they were doing it became utterly irresistible. At the point when all any self-respecting teenager wants is righteous noise to call their own, they were the answer to my prayers. They were my Sex Pistols, my Public Enemy. They defined what music could be, should be; they defined what it could and should say. That definition still stands, I think, even if the radicalism they inspired in my eighteen-year-old self has given way to mortgaged middle age and its inevitable compromises.

Like many good ideas, the evening doesn’t quite work in practice: Keith Harrison’s sculpture proves pretty much unshakeable and unbreakable in the face of the aural assault. A few tiles fall and shatter, the rest stands proud even as the volume increases and the bass vibrates our internal organs. And thus, like many good ideas, it gradually turns into something else, almost as fascinating: rather than watching Napalm Death destroy a sound system, we’re watching a sound system destroy Napalm Death. This isn’t music that’s designed to be played at full pelt for an hour and a half; they don’t really go in for acoustic interludes to have a breather. An unstoppable force is meeting an immovable object. After forty-odd songs, the immovable object eventually wins, and our heroes leave the stage, more shattered and broken by their efforts than most of the tiles.

It’s a noble effort, far more noble than anything I have to describe in the remainder of this report. Our days of being an unstoppable force are over, clearly. We are eminently stoppable; it’s becoming our overriding characteristic. It’d be hard to describe Yeovil as an immovable object, but the effect is much the same: there’s only one winner, only one outcome. The script is as predictable as a sub-standard rom-com, join the dots and roll credits. All we need is to play Jennifer Aniston up front and it’d all be complete. (I’m side-stepping a quip about Diego Fabbrini there, just so’s you know.)

2. The scoreline speaks for itself. It does more than speak: it shouts loudly, peremptory and pompous, like Brian Blessed at a dinner party. The game probably speaks for itself as well, and the performance. But they’re quiet and polite, y’see, and you can’t hear them over Brian bloody Blessed, banging the table and murdering a speech from Shakespeare (“NOW is the WIN-TEEERRRR of our DIScontent”) or somesuch. You don’t want to hear him, but he drowns everything out regardless. A great foghorn of opinions you didn’t ask for. You end the evening feeling browbeaten and bored.

Because if you’ve just lost three-nil at home to the team that’s bottom of the table, nothing else matters. You can’t quibble with that. It’s just there, an uninvited guest, refusing to leave. You can’t house-train it, you can’t grow fond of it, you can’t find its good side; it has no redeeming features whatsoever. Whatever else I say, it matters not a jot next to this: if every game is decided by half a dozen or so moments, those moments all belonged to Yeovil. Every single one, at both ends. That’s it, in a nutshell. The scoreline doesn’t lie.

3. You can pick whichever high-expectation season you like as a comparison: Graham Taylor’s last, Vialli’s one, Boothroyd’s post-Premiership shambles. They’re all the same, in essence: teams without confidence gradually disintegrating in the face of bitter, resentful disappointment. It becomes a vicious circle, if you’re not careful…and we’re never careful.

Halfway through the first half, as we’re gradually growing into the game after an understandably nervous start, you reflect that the first goal has rarely been so important. We just need to keep a clean sheet until we can get ourselves that goal…as we will, given time and patience. We’re doing all right, slowly remembering ourselves. There’s a win here; it’s a game that a more confident, assertive, disciplined side would just about edge before moving forward. Maybe a one-nil win, maybe even two or three once that first has gone in. It’s nothing to do with winning while playing badly; it’s making those decisive moments count.

But, of course, we can’t keep that clean sheet, just as those other expectation-laden teams couldn’t: the style of football might be different, but we don’t half resemble that Boothroyd team, every bit of tentative progress undermined by laughable defensive mishaps. A dismal set piece goal here, forgetting to concentrate on the basics in injury time yet again. We can’t avoid the avoidable, it seems. As if to emphasise the point – as if we bloody need it emphasising, Brian – we do it again after the break, conceding cackhandedly after a right-then-deep-breath start during which you briefly, naively, thought that we might not follow the script after all.

Opponents need do no more than stick around and wait for the inevitable. We’re not capable of forty-five minutes without significant error, and we no longer have last season’s firepower to compensate. It’s a pitiful spectacle. Tidy and concise, Yeovil did nothing wrong…and yet they needed to do very little right either.

4. I almost feel ashamed to bring up the positives. It’s like cracking a rude joke at a funeral; I expect disapproving looks. Thing is, much of this was absolutely fine: the air of utter desperation may have made it seem otherwise, but our passing and movement had more purpose and intent than of late, and much more width too. We continue to lack last season’s cutting edge, and we continue to construct rather than create, and we are sometimes guilty of over-elaborating, and the options on the bench are far too limited for such an extravagantly-assembled squad. None of those flaws need be fatal, if we allow ourselves some time, some room to breathe.

There are still goals here. Even with ten minutes to go, you can’t entirely write off the possibility of a comeback: the floodgates are being held together by bits of string, Yeovil’s defence frequently stretched to the point of relying on desperate blocks and plain luck. That’s our fault for giving them a lead to hang onto, clearly; you can’t play with four forwards all of the time either. Nevertheless, the attractive, expansive passing football we relished so recently hasn’t gone altogether, not yet. Amazing what a bit of confidence can do, what difference a couple of decent results can make. As much difference as a couple of bad ones, as we’ve just found out.

Vicarage Road echoes to the sound of irritated middle-aged blokes. It’s like a haemorrhoid support group without any cushions. Sometimes, that irritation is justified, even if it’s never actively helpful. Much of the time, it merely demands something – anything – other than what we have, principally that we have a facking shot, even if there’s no facking shot to have. This will get us nowhere, obviously. It offers nothing constructive at all; it’s football by numbers. Early in the second half, George Thorne intercepts, moves forward and fluffs a through-pass into Troy Deeney, and the ground erupts in indignation. Have a facking shot. From twenty-five yards, with our centre forward making a perfect, inviting run into the penalty area. We’ve lost our minds, it seems.

5. Which means that the manager must keep his. Having passed one managerial test with flying colours, assembling a squad of strangers into a successful team last time out, Gianfranco Zola faces an even stiffer challenge here. His future depends not on what he’s already done, but on what he can yet do; if he’s the right man to turn this around, he needs to start proving it quickly. The injury list is a fault line through everything; the flaws in the squad (for that injury list doesn’t extend to the forward line) are being revealed too. There are things that he can’t control, but that only makes the things he can more vital. Promises to work hard aren’t enough. It needs to be something more tangible than that.

And I wonder, I have to say. I hope I’m wrong, but I wonder. What we’ve had under Zola has been a team full of loose-limbed, low-slung attitude, built on fabulous attacking intent rather than defensive resolve. It’s always had a rather sloppy quality to it; that’s sometimes been part of its charm, sometimes been utterly infuriating. It’s been great fun to watch and support. But it won’t do now, not if – as we evidently are – we’re defining success or failure on a sustained promotion challenge.

For me, you get back to the basics. You resist the temptation to chop and change more than absolutely necessary, you shut out the incessant din of criticism. You pick the best side available and set it up as it’s most accustomed to playing. That’s where real leadership lies: not in change, but in establishing certainty. More than anything, you start with some clean sheets, for we’re going nowhere but downwards if we continue to concede as we have been: stop that goal from a corner in first half injury time and the whole game looks completely different, looks like ours to win. And then you work on your own set plays to get them beyond the stupefying predictability on show here, for some easy goals would be awfully helpful right now. The rest – about which we’re getting so hot and bothered – can pretty much take care of itself.

All around Vicarage Road, muttered comments starting with “if we can’t beat this lot…” attempted to sum up the game. That logic doesn’t hold water, obviously: performances vary, results vary with them. If we can’t beat this lot, let’s beat another lot. Or, at least, let’s start by not letting them beat us. That’d be good enough to be going on with. Over to you, Gianfranco.

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Comments»

1. Vaughn Smith - 01/12/2013

A bit of a horror show really, but it really didn’t deserve to finish with the cacophony of boos, and most of the seats behind the goal in the lower Rookery empty. That’s just what the team need from the stands isn’t it?

2. Dom smith - 01/12/2013

The big downside of the Pozzos era has been the sense of entitlement that seems to have overtaken a significant – or at least significantly vocal – part of our support. I remember reading with disbelief all the comments saying we’d walk the league during the summer. Now it seems any bad run means the manager must be sacked. A lot of these people are probably the same ones who wanted Dyche sacked early on in his reign and are now saying how brilliantly he’s doing. I guess it’s like this now at must clubs but still a shame to see it happening here.

3. Roger Smith - 01/12/2013

Grateful for your think 4, as I thought I was the only one who didn’t think we played too badly. Three times we created a really good scoring chance, and three times we rushed the shot and missed the target. As you say: “it’s making those decisive moments count”.

Had the first gone in, Yeovil would have been chasing the game with dropped heads, and we could now be breathing a deep sigh of relief, and only one point off the play-offs.

Much has been made about “only two shots on target”. I suggest that it was many more than that, but most only travelled a yard, so it was impossible to judge. Yeovil defending was heroic, and it needed to be. Confidence is fragile, but once regained it would transform the team.

4. The Great Big O - 01/12/2013

Your point in thunk three – about those previous high-expectation season – was something I was pondering last night. The managers didn’t depart during the season and didn’t fare well subsequently: Vialli hasn’t managed again; Boothroyd has been a spent force; even GT, who is, of course, God, retired.

I like Zola very much indeed. I wouldn’t want the same to happen to him.

Maybe it would be best for both parties to have someone else take over.

5. Goldenboy60 - 01/12/2013

I indicated last week that it needs a change of approach. Just to freshen things up. And we need some continuity of personnel. I’m still not sure why we signed McEachran, nor George Thorne (although I do believe he will improve and be the best of them) and even more so Belleren. We have almost 3 teams to pick from. What are the players that we signed thinking (Faoroni), when a young lad is bought in from Arsenal to replace him.

In his interview Zola said he needed to work harder. I don’t agree having been coaching for many years. At these times you need to be relaxed and take the pressure off the players.The harder the players try the worse it becomes because they don’t play in a relaxed manner and you snatch at things and make hurried and bad decisions. This happened so many times yesterday because they were so anxious to get that first goal.

Now is the time for Zola to get some advice from an experience manager. A liitle bit of advice from someone who knows it back to front and who knows how to deal with these difficult situations. Guess who I’m thinking of?

We supporters can help. Our expectancy in the summer was far too high and was based on last season’s team and form in the middle of the season. That has gone and we have to start again. Maybe it’s a good thing that expectations are now well down. Just maybe that will take the pressure off.

With that in mind who says we won’t produce a shock on Tuesday at Burnley. See the difference here? What will they feel on the back of a defeat at Huddersfield (one they expected to win) and with Duffy suspended for the game on Tuesday.

I say lets get to 54 points and see where we are………

Where have I heard that before?

Marcus Shapiro - 01/12/2013

I thought Bellerin was extraordinarily good; and while Faraoni has skill and an eye for goal, he does not defend

Goldenboy60 - 03/12/2013

I didn’t see what you saw. I just thought he was a younger version of Faoroni, and he was ok! But not saying he hasn’t got development in him. But when you read his analaysis of himself he only spoke about getting forward and not defending. Why aren’t we working with Faoroni on the training pitch. But I have to say that I don’t agree with developing players for other clubs. Especially one which has 30 players out on loan. GREED. Josh McEachran will not be good enough to play in their first team. Can any one tell me why Lukaka is loaned out and not in Chelseas first team ahead of Torres, Demba Ba and E’to? Strange…

6. Rod Green glove. - 01/12/2013

The moans of the middle aged and also those more senior to yourself are I’m afraid totally justified.
This was always an accident about to happen and as much as the gloss of some of your comments we are a team of descendants tumbling down the table. As much as I support GFZ and the game we have adopted we have finally been found out. It’s time for a plan B’ which unfortunately he does not seem to have in his armoury at the moment.
It’s all going awfully wrong and as I remember a famous pundit saying, “where do we go from here Saint”
Alas, I worry for the what lies ahead this week and beyond!

Ian Grant - 02/12/2013

I think I’ve tried to answer the “where do we go from here” bit. Whether the management have the appetite for that is another matter, but that’s the solution: becoming a lot harder to score against. The rest isn’t nearly as bad as you’re making out.

7. Sequel - 01/12/2013

I’m afraid it was all my fault. Twenty minutes in, I turned to the bloke sitting next to me and said: “Ishmael Miler’s the worst striker I’ve seen at Vicarage Rd since Guy Whittingham puffed his way breathlessly on to the pitch over 10 years ago”.
What followed was inevitable…..

8. Mark - 02/12/2013

Your comment “Vicarage Road echoes to the sound of irritated middle-aged blokes. It’s like a haemorrhoid support group without any cushions. Sometimes, that irritation is justified, even if it’s never actively helpful.”….is a piece of genius. Made me laugh and nod knowingly at the same time.
Didnt see the game but suggest ‘dont panic’ ‘get the basics right’ are the order of the day.
I’ll pick up my winnings in the cliche bingo stall later.

9. Harefield Hornet - 02/12/2013

It’s the curse of the demolished stand – exorcism needed!

10. Stephen Hoffman - 02/12/2013

Its not just the conceding which is the problem though, for a second time in the row, we had hardly any shots on target and I have no confidence due to that, that we will score.

Ian Grant - 02/12/2013

We created plenty during the second half on Saturday – as you should with four forwards, granted – and came close to scoring on several occasions, whatever the tedious two-shots stat might suggest. (More football by numbers, that.)

Confidence in front of goal is low, we’re tentative and hesitant. So, how do you build that confidence?

11. drdavewatford - 02/12/2013

“Now it seems any bad run means the manager must be sacked.”

It’s not just any bad run though, is it ? We haven’t lost 4 home games on the bounce for 20 years, and given the quality of players at GFZ’s disposal that’s a pretty damning statistic….

Our defending has been inadequate for months, and I don’t remember the last time I saw a Watford team make so many costly individual errors either. I find the lack of any discernable progress in addressing these problems troubling. It’s time for GFZ to show that he can do more than just shuffle the starting 11 and subs, because at present that seems to be the only obvious strategy being employed.

Harefield Hornet - 02/12/2013

Most pundits on the WO site have him sacked already! – we’re just having a bad run for gods sake. GFZ produced an attractive winning side (for the most part) last season and I’m sure given support and time he’ll do so again. I can’t understand why a lot of people (and I’m not referring to anyone who posts on here) are acting like 3 year olds who’ve had their sweets taken away. This run will identify the players who are worth keeping and those which aren’t. My suggestion is that if we’re still in the same position after another 10 games – then have look at it, but the Pozzos will do their own thing anyway – that’s for sure.

12. hornet244 - 02/12/2013

I can take a positive from the game – at least I know I’m not the only one who can’t stand Brian Blessed and his self-important bellowing. Always felt somehow subversive for hating someone approaching national treasure status

Ian Grant - 03/12/2013

Him and Tom bloody Jones. Awful.

NickB - 03/12/2013

Completely agree: he’s a total embarrassment and the edition of HIGNFY he presented a few months ago gave new meaning to the term car crash TV.

13. petebradshaw - 02/12/2013

You are right about the first goal being the thing. Collective uselessness. As was the Boro equalizer. We played well up there until then and destroyed Huddersfield. These stupid goals from set pieces and individual defensive errors is what is costing us. It’s a very fine line. And as for those saying play roughly the same team. I suspect he might if he could.

14. hornetboy84 - 02/12/2013

I have mentioned this elsewhere – but I would rather have Zola and stay in the championship than have Pullis and be in the Premiership.
If its become all about going up NOW – then God help us – because I thought the beauty of the Pozzos was that we can be a little more patient and build something.
I have huge question marks ove this season.. Key issue on Saturday was number of saves their keeper made =zero but at least Deeney looked closer to form and fessi continues to do a working shift Mcgugan can only dream of. Despite that I’m concerned over Striker balance/ the loanee quality – why? Points with either Josh or George playing must be rather few methinks. And Zola has to consider some different starting formations – but I saw enough last season to know he can sort this – may not be to the pace of everyone’s liking though.
As for what can be done for the team! – key issue is confidence. So I’d suggest we could stop moaning and booing and do what fans are meant to do in difficult times and support the team by singing our hearts out for the lads. I remember the crowd practically being responsible for scoring a desperate winner vs derby a few years ago ! Let’s get our soul back and move on. You orns.

15. MattP - 03/12/2013

The calls for Zola to go are symptomatic with today’s throwaway culture – little has been said about the coaching staff changes and maybe that is playing a part but then we were playing well at the start of the season – 2-0 up against Norwich and full of confidence for example. Injuries have been harsh on him – a settled back 3 or 4 makes a huge difference to a teams understanding. I did not enjoy Saturday one bit but I and many on here have endured division two under Kenny Jackett – got excited when Elton john stumped up for Paul Devlin, so context is needed. This squad is probably our most talented in many years which is why it is so disappointing I guess. There is no tactical change that can magic confidence but greater solidity has to be the starting point. All that said I think Mcgugan needs to realise talent alone is not enough – I can now understand why Billy Davies used him off the bench sadly…I would like to see Zola change the formation if nothing but to see if it would make us harder to beat – start by settling for a point away and asking the opposition to try and beat us rather than doing that for them – who knows really – there is a good team in our squad and anyway who really wants to be in the premiership anyway? Would it be fun?

16. ephemerolfc - 10/12/2013

Dismal result, inspired writing. Like reading a match report written by Jonathan Meades. Great stuff, Ian.


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